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Biography of Cicero


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MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO, the greatest orator of Rome, and one of the most illustrious of her statesmen and men of letters, was born at Aspinum, on the 3rd of January, in the year 1O6 B.C. His father, himself a man of culture, and desirous that his son should acquire an eminent position in the state, removed him at an early age to Rome, where, under the direction of the orator Crassus, he was instructed in the language and literature of Greece, and in all the other branches of a polite education. In his sixteenth year he assumed the manly gown, and was introduced to the public life of a Romam citizen. He now acquired a knowledge of law, and underwent a complete course of discipline in oratory. At the same time he studied philosophy under three successive preceptors, of the Epicurean, Academic, and the Stoic schools, and neglected no mental exercise, no matter how arduous, which might conduce to his future eminence. He began to plead in public in his twenty-sixth year. In one of his earliest causes, he distinguished himself by defending the rights of Roscius, a private citizen, against one of the favorites of Sulla, who was then Dictator. Soon after for the benefit of his health, and in order to improve in elocution, he traveled to the chief seats of learning in Greece aud Asia; and on his return was regarded as second to no orator at the Roman bar. Having been elected quaestor (76 B.C.,) he was appointed by lot to a government in Sicily, a post which he filled with great ability, and to the entire satisfaction of those whom he governed. Passing at short intervals through the offices of aedile and praetor, (66 B.C.) he was elected by an overwhelming majority, to the consulship. His tenure of office was rendered memorable by the conspiracy of Catiline, which he frustrated with admirable skill and promptitude. The highest praises were showered upon Cicero; he was hailed by Cato and Catalus as "The Father of his Country"; and public thanksgivings in his name were voted to the gods. But his popularity did not last long after the expiration of his consulship. His enemies charged him with a public crime, in having put the conspiring nobles to death without a formal trial, and he found it necessary to leave Rome, and went to reside at Thessalonica, (58 B.C.) A formal edict of banishment was pronounced against him, but he was recalled from banishment in about 16 months, and on his return to Rome was received with great enthusiasm. His recovered dignity however, soon excited the envy of the honorable party in the Senate, with whom he had desired to make common cause; while Pompey and Caesar, the greatest powers in the state, and from whose enmity he had most to dread, courted his alliance and co-operation. Thus while preserving an appearance of independence, he was betrayed into many actions which by increasing the power of the triumvirs, led indirectly to the ruin of the republic. During this period he composed his works, DeOratore, DeRepublica, and DeLegibus. After a year's admirable administration of the province of Cilicia, (51-50 B.C.) he returned to Italy on the eve of the civil war. After hesitating for a time, he joined the army of the Senate, but after the battle of Pharsalia, abruptly quitted his friends, and resolved to throw himself upon the generosity of the conqueror. After nine months' miserable suspense at Brundusium, he was kindly received by Caesar, whom he followed to Rome. During the years which ensued, he remained in comparative retirement, composing his principal works in philosophy and rhetoric, including those entitled Orator, Hortensius, DeFinibus, Tusculanae Disputations, DeNatura Deorum, DeSenectute, DeAmicitia and DeOfficiis. In the commotions which followed the death of Caesar, he espoused the cause of Octavianus, and gave utterance to his celebrated philippics against Antony. These orations were the cause of his death. When Octavianus and Lepidus joined with Antony in a triumvirate, Cicero was among the proscribed; and his life was relentlessly sought.

The soldiers of Antony overtook him while his attendents were bearing him, now old and in an infirm state of health, from his Formian villa to Caieta, where he intended to embark. He met his death with greater fortitude than he had supported many of the untoward incidents of his life. Desiring his attendents to forbear resistance, he stretched forward in his litter, and offered his neck to the sword of his executioners. He died in the 63rd year of his age, on the 7th of December 43 B.C.

The character of Cicero is one that is not difficult to estimate. As a statesman it would be unjust to deny his legislative abilities; but he was generally deficient in courage and resolution. He was one of the greatest masters of Rhetoric that have ever lived. His orations were the result of consummate art, combined with unwearied industry, and survive as characteristic memorials of a time when eloquence, far more than at present, was a power which bent the verdicts of judicial tribunals, and influenced the decrees of the state.